3rd Sunday of Easter Year C
Theme of the week: Obey God rather than any human authority. And if you are persecuted for your faith, then rejoice, for your reward is great in heaven.
Have you been persecuted for doing what is right? Have you been persecuted for speaking in the name of Jesus?
In the First Reading, reminiscent of what is to come in the years ahead, the early Christians were persecuted for preaching the name of Jesus. We hear of how the high priest had the disciples flogged and then ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus (verse 40). However, rather than succumbing to pressure of the authority, the disciples “rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonour for the sake of the name” (verse 41). In spite of them being persecuted, the attitude of the disciples is perhaps best summed up by Peter when he boldly declared, “We must obey God rather than any human authority” (verse 29).
My dear brothers and sisters, in this present age, we too face persecution – in our secular society, in our workplaces and perhaps even within our Christian communities, where we are constantly pressured to keep quiet; to stop preaching in the name of Jesus. Faced with many accepted norms of our secular society that go against our Christian beliefs, what is our stand? Should we succumb to the so-called social norm, or should we, like Peter, boldly declare that obedience to God supersedes obedience to human? And if we should suffer for the righteous stand we take, do we rejoice rather than complain? As 18th Century British philosopher and politician Edmund Burke once said, “All that is necessary for evil to succeed is that good men do nothing.” Think about this for a moment: in the light of the examples set by Jesus and the early disciples, should “doing nothing” even be an option for us at all?
The Second Reading paints a heavenly vision of all creatures and angels gathering around the throne of God, worshiping and glorifying Jesus. This vision is in direct contrast to that of the First Reading. In this heavenly vision, praises were universal and there is no fear of persecution. If we are persecuted for the sake of Jesus on earth (as Jesus predicted we would in Luke 21:12), this vision puts everything into context. Compared to eternity, our life on earth is but a fleeting moment. As such, isn’t it better to be obedient to God in this life and be at peace for eternity; than to be obedient to human in this life and suffer eternal damnation?
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven” (Mt 5:11-12).
The Gospel recalled the post-resurrection story of Jesus appearing by the Sea of Tiberias. The event reminded us of Jesus’ calling of his first disciples in Luke 5. Through the fruitless labour of the apostles (they caught no fish), we are reminded that without God, we human can achieve nothing. With the Lord’s help, however, the apostles caught a huge haul of fishes, a stark reminder to the apostles of their mission as “people catcher” (Luke 5:10). The amazing thing is, in spite of the large haul, the net did not break. Hence, what seems improbable in human terms is easily achieved with God’s help. Hence, do not lament your lack of ability – God does not call the qualified, He qualifies the called. In responding to God’s mission to us to evangelise and to stand firm in our beliefs, let us not lament that we are not strong enough, not eloquent enough or not smart enough. For when we answer to God’s call, He will provide us the means.
Toward the end of the Gospel passage, Jesus asked Peter “do you love me” – not once but three times (verse 15, 16, 17). Peter three affirmative answers stand in stark contrast to his three denial of Jesus at the temple. This is an amazing transformation for Peter, from one too timid to admit his association with Jesus to one that would eventually be martyred for his faith, as he obeyed God rather than any human authority. In the Gospel, Jesus then asked Peter to take care of His sheep and His lamb – giving Peter the authority to be our earthly shepherd. As the First Pope of the Catholic Church, Peter passed on this authority through a unbroken chain of successors to our present Pope, as the Pope acts as the earthly shepherd of God’s people.